Shopping 
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Get An Amazon Prime 3 Month Trial Free

Amazon is running a $10 Amazon.com Prime promotion until the end of July.

The Amazon Prime Free Trial offer is back but this time it’s only 3 months. Amazon Prime is a program where you can get free shipping regardless of your purchase amount (if the products are eligible, most are) and discounted expedited shipping. A year’s membership costs $79. I reviewed Amazon Prime in terms of cost effectiveness a little while back before they started offering free trials.

Instructions:

  1. Log into your account.
  2. View your account information.
  3. Under the heading Subscriptions Management, click on Manage your Amazon Prime membership.
  4. You will be prompted to log in again.
  5. You should then see “You are not currently subscribed to Amazon Prime. Click here to sign up.” Click on ‘here.’
  6. You will now be offered a 3 month trial membership to Amazon Prime.
  7. You will be prompted for payment information.
  8. You will see “Thank you for joining. You’re now a member of Amazon Prime™ Free Trial!” Click on the link to manage your Amazon Prime account preferences.
  9. In bright green, you should see “Your trial membership will upgrade to a full membership for $79 automatically on [date]” and a button with “Do not upgrade.” Click that button.
  10. The bright green text should now say “Your trial membership will not upgrade to a full membership automatically on August 19, 2006.

You now have Amazon Prime for 3 months, absolutely free, and you don’t even have to worry about remembering to cancel it. You will receive two email messages letting you know when your membership is about the expire, you can ignore those.


 Shopping 
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Selling Textbooks – Amazon vs. Half.com vs. Ebay

The Fall semester at Johns Hopkins’ MBA program just ended today and I’m going through the usual end-of-the-semester ritual of selling my gently used textbooks for dimes and quarters on the dollar. I never really sat down and investigated which service would give me the most bang for my buck until now and I still think I am making the right choices. While I was pretty sure what their commissions were and how each service operated, having sold items on Amazon, Ebay and Half.com before; I never looked in close detail at the numbers.


(Click to continue reading…)


 Shopping 
4
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Amazon.com Prime Free 4 Month Trial

To get a trial offer to Amazon Prime, put a bunch of items into your Amazon.com shopping cart, select one or two day shipping, and on the final checkout screen you should see the following text:

[Your name], you have been selected to receive a FREE four-month trial of Amazon Prime. If you sign up then you can get unlimited One-Day Shipping for $3.99 per item on over a million items sold by Amazon.com while your trial lasts.
»
Learn more & sign up (link added)

Click the link and a javascript-esq pop-up will appear with a HUGE “Sign me up — it’s FREE” button to sign up.

The free Amazon.com Prime trial lasts four months after which they will charge you usual $79 annual fee. They even promise to send you two reminder emails! For my thoughts on Amazon Prime, if you pay for it, read this post.

No Purchase Is Necessary!

Update: You can get the free offer by clicking this link:
http://www.amazon.com/gp/subs/primeclub/signup/main.html

And to prevent it from automatically upgrading you from the trial (free) to the actual ($79/yr), go to Your Account, scroll down and click Manage My Subscriptions, and then click the “Do Not Upgrade” button. I’d still double check after four months to make sure you aren’t charged.


 Credit 
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Amazon.com Offers Payment Via Bank Account

As I went to pay for a recent Amazon.com purchase, I saw that they now accept payment via a bank account (ACH). All you need to do is provide the typical bank account information (Bank Routing Number, Account Number, Your Name) and some atypical information (your driver’s license number and state). Is this a good way to be paying for your purchase? No because if you make a mistake you could be dinged with fees.

I poked around the Terms and Conditions and here are four points of note:
1. If you make a purchase and your account has insufficient funds, you’ll be dinged for $25 (3). This isn’t all that surprising though and it’s less than some bounced check fees.
2. You give Amazon authorization to request “a credit report and performing other credit checks or verifying the information you provide against third party databases” (2c) in the event of a dispute.
3. You’re forced to use their Error Resolution Policy (6) which means you have to provide them with all sorts of information regarding the transaction.
4. Fraud protection (such as unauthorized transfers) is provided by Amazon and only for 90 days.

(Click to continue reading…)


 Reviews, Shopping 
2
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Amazon Prime: New Shipping Program

Amazon has setup an interesting new program called Amazon Prime: “All You Can Eat” Express Shipping. Basically you pay $79 per year and you get free two-day shipping on “over a million in-stock items” and overnight shipping for $3.99 an item if ordered before 6:30 PM Eastern. The only other noteworthy item is that you can add four additional members as long as it ships to the same address. There are also some restrictions regarding where you are shipping to (PO Boxes, APO/FPO addresses, etc).

Is this really worth it? I have purchased hundreds of items from Amazon and was always able to use the “FREE Super Saver Shipping (5-9 business days)” as long as it wasn’t a third party item. My initial belief is that if you want to instant gratification of receiving an item in two days (or one day) this may be a good program to join. If you aren’t as picky or in a rush most of the time, free shipping probably is good enough.

Let us analyze:
Book: Tournament Poker for Advanced Players (Advance Player) by David Sklansky ($19.77). It’s a 245 page book that weights 14.4 oz.
FREE Super Saver Shipping (5-9 days) – N/A (under $25)
Standard Shipping (3-5 days) – $3.99
Two-Day Shipping (2 days) – $9.48
One-Day Shipping (1 day) – $16.48

Well… we picked a standard book that was eligible for the free service (if we ordered more) and the two day shipping was almost ten bucks and the one day was nearly $17 dollars!

Electronics: SANDISK SDMSPD512768 512MB Memory Stick Pro Duo Card ($62.99). They pegged this card at a pound but it’s probably a fraction of that.
FREE Super Saver Shipping (5-9 days) – FREE
Standard Shipping (3-5 days) – $5.58
Two-Day Shipping (2 days) – $10.48
One-Day Shipping (1 day) – $17.48

Hrm… we can get it shipped to use in a week-plus or we can pay to get it ASAP.

Kitchenware: Circulon Classic 14-Piece Cookware Set ($199.99). This beast weights 31 lb. and needs to be shipped by itself but still qualifies for free shipping.
FREE Super Saver Shipping (5-9 days) – FREE
Standard Shipping (3-5 days) – $23.28
Two-Day Shipping (2 days) – $39.68
One-Day Shipping (1 day) – $76.68

Wow, 31 lb. sure is expensive to ship. I think we’re getting the idea here thought….

Amazon is probably tired of the free shipping number on their balance sheets getting larger and larger (according to this Reuters article [article archived] they lost $197M in 2004) and perhaps they’re trying to get some payment? Wrong. They believe this plan will cost them even more in shipping losses (free shipping, still free, pay shipping now makes 2 day free and even faster shipping cheaper) but Amazon is in the business of capturing market share, not showing profitability.

What does this mean for you? My initial thoughts were proved correct: Semi-instant gratification (2 days) or really-close-to-instant gratification (next day) has been made cheaper by quite a bit, especially for high volume consumers. The rest of us who aren’t in a hurry simply won’t benefit from the new plan, but we probably knew that before we started.

For more info, you can check out the Amazon Prime FAQ for all the other specifics we glossed over.


 Personal Finance, The Home 
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How to Save Electricity (And Your Wallet)

Whether you’re Earth-conscious/friendly or just looking to save a few bucks, energy conservation makes good financial sense regardless of your intentions. There are several sites online that give you a rough estimate of how much money you’ll save on your bill if you take a few simple steps to conserve wattage.

First things first, large appliances and large fixtures eat up the most electricity. Basically these are you’re heavy hitters: Air Conditioning, Washer/Dryer, Lights, and Refrigerator/Freezer.

Air Conditioning: Consider using a fan or installing ceiling fans instead of using the Air Conditioning. Or consider setting the air conditioning at a higher level and using fans in conjunction. You can expect savings of over 6000 kWh/year simply by using a ceiling fan instead of running the AC. Look at your electric bill, see how much that would save you, and then decide if you want to install some fans. It is estimated that, for cooling, every degree below 78 increases your usage by about 6-8%.

Consider getting a timer, so you don’t cool when you’re not around (it’s a waste!). Timers are cheap and many have reaped the dividends many times over. Also consider replacing your old system with a new one. It is believed that a system made before 1988 probably uses more than twice the energy as one made today.

Another note about fans, they don’t cool the air, they simply move it. As you stay stationary, your body warms the air around you and so you’ll feel warmer. The fan will simply push that air away so you can feel cooler air around you. What that also means is leaving a fan on in a room you’re not in is a waste.

Washer/Dryer: This is where you can save a few dollars without even noticing (unlike the niceties of AC, how you wash/dry clothes probably doesn’t matter as much). If you just air-dry your clothes on a rack instead of using the dryer, you can expect to save about 1500 kWh/yr. You might notice that change because fabric softener sure is nice… but use cold water instead of hot water to wash and you can save 1200 kWh/yr. If you use warm instead of hot, you can still save 600 kWh/yr. And these aren’t difficult changes to enact, you won’t even notice you’re using cold water.

Lights: Here is where there’s a lot of debate between using regular incandescent bulbs and compact fluorescent bulbs. Fluorescents use significantly less electricity but take longer to warm up and produce a nice “clean” light.

Refrigerator/Freezer: This is simply a matter of figuring out how much energy your current refrigerator is using and how much the newer models are using. A new fridge will probably run you around $500 and will last you maybe twenty years or so. A typical fridge from ten or fifteen years ago probably eats up about 900 kWh/yr so do your math and see if it makes sense. As for standalone freezers, if you can save money by buying in bulk from Costco then you may justify using that freezer. Most are energy guzzlers and if you don’t need it, get rid of it.

Next we will look at the smaller appliances and some appliances you didn’t think used that much power. Almost everything that draws juice will have a label on it that will tell you how many watts it runs on. If it only has amp(ere)s, then multiply by 120 because our outlets are 120 volts (amps * volts = watts) to find out the watts it’ll use.

Key Points:
1. That number is the maximum it’ll draw, the average draw may be lower. Plus it won’t tell you how much it’s really drawing but it will tell you the max it will draw in a month. It’s not an exact science.
2. Advertisements are usually for output, like your speakers are a certain wattage, etc. The draw is probably higher.
3. When off, some things still draw power, even if nothing is being displayed. You obviously expect anything with a display to draw power but even that receiver, when off, still draws power because there is a transformer inside.

GeneratorSales.com has a great list of how much each appliance will draw. It’s obviously just a sample because it’ll vary from brand to brand and from model to model. It’ll give you a good starting point.

There are several ways to check how much things are really using, the easiest is to use something like the P3 International Kill-a-Watt Electricity Usage Monitor. You can use it to see how much energy appliances are using and, if you don’t need it, unplug it. It’s a nifty little tool at a reasonable price. Another great way is to just go outside and look at your meter. The numbers will go up and the dials will turn, it’s a great way to see how much your home uses as a baseline.

I hope these little tips, most of them won’t impact your quality of life or require significant costs, are helpful in getting your energy costs in check. If nothing else, hopefully they’ve given you a few ideas you can build upon for even more savings.


 Personal Finance 
0
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Lifespan of a Cell Phone Relationship

After a weeklong hiatus, Bargaineering is back on track and ready to bring you some hearty information on cell phones. Everyone has a cell phone now and the thought of instant contact at anytime is too powerful to dismiss. On the flip side, cell phones are like a life preserver, safety is a mere phone call away in most situations. That being the case, cell phone companies are fighting each other like crazy to steal customers and keep the customers they have. We will explain how to get the best for your buck before, during, and after you sign the contract.

Lifespan of a Cell Phone Relationship: Understanding where you are in the lifespan will dictate what you can demand and successfully receive.

  • Phase 1:Pre-purchase – This is for when you’ve decided to get yourself a new cell phone and are shopping around for the best deal. You hold probably the second most amount of power of the three phases here.
  • Phase 2: In Contract – This is after you’ve decided with a contract and have begun using service. You hold very little power here because the company knows if you cancel you will get socked with a $150 – $200 “early termination fee.”
  • Phase 3: Post-Contract – So you’ve run the life of your contract and you now want new service. You hold more power in this phase than in any phase ever with your current service. There is an old adage in business that states acquiring new customers can cost five times more than retaining current customers. If you decide you want out with the current services regardless, then you go back to Phase 1 (minus the option of going with the service provider you have now).

    Now let’s play the game…

    Phase 1: There are typically three criteria you look for when you’re shopping around for a phone: a cool phone so you can show off to your friends, great coverage so you aren’t frustrated by drops, and price. The matter of finding a cool phone or discussing coverage areas is way too complex to get into for now so we’ll just get into price — bottom dollar. Keep this hard fast rule in mind — Never pay for a cell phone. It is accepted practice that cell phones are loss leaders and the service is what earns the big bucks. Take a look at Amazon.com’s Cell Phone and Services section and start scrolling through the phones. Over half of them pay you money to sign up, that’s how lucrative cell phones are these days (all free or “pay you” phones will require a contract). The benefit of an Amazon is that you can compare multiple offers are once, something you can’t do if you go to a T-Mobile or Spring store in the mall.

    Before you fall in love with a phone or a service, keep this next table in mind:

    Service Min. Contract Period
    AT&T Wireless* 2 years
    Cingular* 1 year
    Nextel 1 year
    Sprint 2 years
    T-Mobile 1 year

    *AT&T Wireless and Cingular are now one service (Cingular acquired AT&T Wireless) – but Cingular rebates still say 1 year minimum!

    If you sign a two year agreement, you lose power during those two years so avoid it if you can.

    Phase 2: The worst phase but you can still get something out of it if you try really hard. Early on in a two year agreement, there is still the threat of cancellation if they believe you think the service could possibly warrant it. I was once put hold for about an hour and transferred three times for a mistake they made in my bill. I was angry and eventually transferred to a mediator who offered a $25 courtesy credit for my trouble. Sprint has their automated customer service that if you say “dropped call credit” then they’ll credit you something like a quarter (you can do it a limited number of times a month). Just call a bunch of times when you’re bored and it’s like an instant discount. Always ask, always complain, you might get a little something in return, there’s no pain in trying.

    Phase 3: The best phase… going month to month gives you the most flexibility because they want to keep you. They’ll offer you free phones and better rates just to keep you but with the advent of number portability – there’s almost no point in staying because of the “pay you” phones available on Amazon. But if you do stick around for a few months, try complaining and asking for credit, they’ll give it to you more readily than in Phase 2. Don’t abuse it because they’ll see the pattern and get wise to what you’re doing.

    Phase 3 -> Phase 1: If you decide to go with a “pay you” phone, you can’t go with the service you have. New service activation means you can’t have had service with that company in the last three or six months (depends on the company). But you can have someone else sign up for you if you want to avoid it… and then have it transfered to you. To transfer just go to a store (they need to see you) and ask to switch it over.


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